Postmortem on ‘Alien Autopsy’
Britain’s Manchester Evening News termed it a hoax that “fooled the world” (Salford 2006). Well, not exactly: Skeptical Inquirer magazine was on to the 1995 “Alien Autopsy” film from the outset.1 But now the reputed creator of the fake extraterrestrial corpse used for the “autopsy” has publicly confessed.
Detecting a Hoax
The film-purporting to depict the postmortem of an extraterrestrial who died in a UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 (see figure)-was part of a “documentary” that aired on the Fox television network. Skeptics and many UFOlogists quickly branded the affair a hoax.
Among numerous observations, they noted that the film bore a bogus, nonmilitary codemark, that the injuries sustained by the extraterrestrial were inconsistent with an air crash, and that the person performing the autopsy held the scissors like a tailor rather than a pathologist (who is trained to place his middle or ring finger in the bottom of the scissors hole and use his forefinger to steady the blades). Houston pathologist Ed Uthman (1995) faulted the film for lacking what he aptly termed “technical verisimilitude.”
Other pathologists agreed. Cyril Wecht (1995), former president of the National Association of Forensic Pathologists, described the viscera in terms that could apply to supermarket meat scraps: “I cannot relate these structures to abdominal context.” Nationally known pathologist Dominick Demaio (1995) was even more succinct: “I would say it’s a lot of bull.”
Hollywood special-effects expert Trey Stokes (whose film credits include The Blob, Batman Returns, and Tales from the Crypt) told CSICOP that the alien corpse behaved like a dummy, seeming lightweight, “rubbery,” and therefore moving unnaturally when handled (Stokes 1995).
Belatedly, a Manchester sculptor and special-effects creator, John Humphreys, now claims the Roswell alien was his handiwork, destroyed after the film was shot. He made the revelation just as a new movie, Alien Autopsy, was being released, a film for which he recreated the original creature. Released in April 2006, it retells the making of the 1995 hoax autopsy film, with a pair of British television celebrities playing the original producers, Ray Santilli and Gary Shoefield. Santilli now claims the 1995 film was a recreation of genuine footage that became damaged when its container was opened after forty-eight years (Horne 2006).
As Humphreys told the BBC, “Funnily enough, I used exactly the same process as before. You start with the stills from the film, blow them up as large as you can. Then you make an aluminum armature, which you cover in clay, and then add all the detail.” The clay model was used to produce a mold that yielded a latex cast. The body cavities were filled, Humphreys admitted, with chicken entrails, sheep brains, and the like, purchased from a meat market near the north-London flat in which the film was shot (Horne 2006).
Are Humphreys’s claims credible? Indeed, not only is he a graduate of the Royal Academy and a special-effects model-maker-his credits include Max Headroom and Doctor Who-but his recreations are so good as to leave no doubt of his ability to have made the originals. And examples of his work displayed on his Web site (Humphreys 2006) are stylistically consistent with the hoaxed aliens.
Humphreys also admitted that in the original autopsy film, he himself played the role of the pathologist; his identity was concealed by a contamination suit.
The alien-autopsy hoax represented the culmination of several years’ worth of rumors, urban legends, and outright deceptions, purporting to prove that saucer wreckage and the remains of its humanoid occupants were stored at a secret facility-e.g., a (nonexistent) “Hangar 18” at Wright Patterson Air Force Base-and that the small corpses were autopsied at that or another site.
Among the hoaxes were the following:
- A 1949 science-fiction movie, The Flying Saucer, purported to contain scenes of a captured spacecraft; an actor actually posed as an FBI agent and swore the claim was true.
- In 1950, writer Frank Scully reported in his Behind the Flying Saucers that the U.S. government possessed no fewer than three Venusian spaceships, together with the humanoid corpses found on board. Scully had been fed the tale by two confidence men who had hoped to sell a petroleum-locating device allegedly based on alien technology (Clark 1993).
- In 1974, Robert Spencer Carr began to promote one of the crashes from the Scully book and to claim firsthand knowledge of where the pickled aliens were stored. But as the late claimant’s son told Skeptical Inquirer readers (Carr 1997), Carr was a spinner of yarns who made up the entire story.
- In 1987, the author of a book on Roswell released the notorious “MJ-12 documents,” which seemed to prove the crash-retrieval story and a high-level government coverup. Unfortunately document experts readily exposed the papers as inept forgeries (Nickell 1995; Nickell and Fischer 1990).
- In 1990, Gerald Anderson claimed that he and family members had been rock hunting in the New Mexico desert in 1947, when they came upon a crashed saucer with injured aliens among the still-burning wreckage. Anderson released a diary his uncle had purportedly kept that recorded the event. Alas, forensic tests showed that the ink used to write the entries had not been manufactured until 1974 (Nickell 2001, 120).
The most elaborate Roswell hoax, however, and the one that probably reached the largest audience, was the “Alien Autopsy” film. It will be remembered as a classic of the genre. The truth about “the Roswell incident"-that the crash device was merely a secret U.S. spy balloon, part of Project Mogul, which attempted to monitor emissions from anticipated Soviet nuclear tests-continues to be obscured by hoaxers, conspiracy cranks, and hustlers.
We should again recall Paul Kurtz’s statement at the time of the original film’s airing: “The Roswell myth should be permitted to die a deserved death. Whether or not we are alone in the universe will have to be decided on the basis of better evidence than that provided by the latest bit of Roswell fakery” (Nickell 1995, 19).
I am grateful to Timothy Binga, David Park Musella, and Benjamin Radford for research assistance and to Paul Loynes and Lisa Hutter for production assistance.
- My article on the case (Nickell 1995) inaugurated my column, “Investigative Files,” in SI.
- Carr, Timothy Spencer. 1997. Son of originator of ‘Alien Autopsy’ story casts doubt on father’s credibility. Skeptical Inquirer 21:4 (July/August) 21(4): 31-32.
- Clark, Jerome. 1993. UFO hoaxes. In Encyclopedia of Hoaxes, ed. by Gordon Stein. Detroit: Gale Research: 267-278.
- Damaio, Dominick. 1995. Appearance on American Journal, September 6.
- Films. 2006. BBC Homepage, April 18. Available here; accessed April 18, 2006.
- Horne, Marc. 2006. Max Headroom creator made Roswell alien. The Sunday Times (Britain), April 25; available here; accessed April 25, 2006.
- Humphreys, John. 2006. Official Web site: http://www.john-humphreys.com/; accessed April 18, 2006.
- Nickell, Joe. 1995. “Alien Autopsy Hoax.” Skeptical Inquirer 19(6): (Nov./Dec.), 17-19.
- —-. 2001. Real-Life X-Files: Investigating the Paranormal. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky.
- Nickell, Joe, and John F. Fischer. 1990. The crashed-saucer forgeries. International UFO Reporter, March/April: 4-12.
- Salford man admits alien autopsy fake. 2006. Manchester Evening News, April 6; available here; accessed April 6, 2006.
- Stokes, Trey. 1995. Personal communications, August 29-31.
- Uthman, Ed. 1995. “Fox’s ‘Alien Autopsy': A pathologist’s view.” Usenet, sci.med.pathology, September 15.
- Wecht, Cyril. 1995. Quoted on “Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?” Fox Network, August 28 and September 4.